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In praise of gerontology

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Katie Mansfield-Loynes, Barchester Healthcare’s head of clinical learning and development, feels it’s time for a revolution in the care of older people

Katie Mansfield-Loynes

Back in the 1980s an award-winning, much loved TV advert featured the comedian Maureen Lipman as a doting grannie who, upon learning that her grandson has failed every exam except for pottery and sociology, exclaims, “He gets an ology and says he’s failed?… You get an ology and you’re a scientist!”

Joking aside, as a profession, why do we shy away from promoting a true specialist qualification in elderly care - that of gerontology at degree level?

Despite the fact that nursing frail older people with complex needs requires knowledge and skill - as well as empathy, emotional reserve and common sense - there remains a reluctance to promote a specialist qualification.

“Nursing frail older people with complex needs requires knowledge and skill”

Nursing home care has been the subject of widespread concern and criticism in professional circles. Older people’s services do not have high societal status and generally are not attractive options for professions. Elderly care enjoys little prestige - a true Cinderella service.

So why then would any self-respecting nurse want to work in the care home sector?

Our focus, in Barchester Healthcare, is to develop outstanding people. Part of this is providing great career pathways for registered nurses.

“Our focus, in Barchester Healthcare, is to develop outstanding people”

Barchester homes not only aim to enhance the lives of older people, but are also committed to achieving this through enhancing the skills of our staff.

This starts at the first day of a qualified nurse’s career with our accredited preceptorship programme (which can be started at any time of year). This is a 12-month programme where the preceptee is fully supported by a qualified clinical mentor to navigate the journey of their first year as a registered practitioner and includes such elements as leadership, accountability, documentation and team building.

Naturally, a three-month induction period applies to all staff, which includes the required legislative and mandatory training and the formulation of a personal development plan.

Following on from this it gets really exciting!

We have various career journeys for all nurses, whether it’s a progression through management or to hone great clinical skills. For those nurses wanting to go into management, we have a complete suite of awards.

Our management qualifications are all accredited through the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and range from a Level 2 right through to Level 7. These awards are supported by the use of blended learning - workshops, online learning, journals, coaching and mentoring.

Workshops are aplenty and cover:

  • Clinical: venipuncture, catheterisation, dementia, percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy feeds, tracheotomies and ventilators;
  • Personal Development: assertiveness, managing stress, train the trainer; leadership skills
  • Management: business planning, communication skills and appraisal skills.

Throughout Barchester Healthcare we adopt a coaching culture as our leaders recognise the company’s role in building a sustainable and high-quality business for the future.

Barchester actively encourages leaders at all levels of the organisation to undertake coaching and mentoring training and to use these skills in the day-to-day management of their teams.

For nurses who qualified with a certificate or diploma, we work closely with the University of Wolverhampton to provide a BSc in Care of the Older Person. This is a centralised course, in Wolverhampton, that, instead of weekly attendance, we have organised into blocks. It covers everything that you need to provide holistic older people’s care. For those nurses with a degree, we can also support post-graduate qualifications via our bursary arrangements.

We are working hard to promote the title of BSc gerontology with a number of higher education institute partners.

Barchester Healthcare is committed to providing integrated holistic care for older people that promotes cross-boundary working between primary and secondary care. All of our development opportunities tacitly engage our nurses within this promotion of person-centred and relationship-orientated care model.

Care pathways should consider the physical and psychological needs of normal ageing, together with the crises and potential deterioration associated with acute illness.

“Gerontological nursing adds a specialised and expanding body of knowledge into general nursing practice”

Nursing is both an art and a science. It uses a unique body of knowledge to guide the professional practice of nurses.

Gerontological nursing adds a specialised and expanding body of knowledge into general nursing practice. We believe our gerontologically focussed nurses must identify the clinical questions and conduct research so nursing practice continues to expand beyond the boundaries of tradition.

Barchester is proud to be a part of the revolution that is needed in the care of older people, through the specialised education of frontline staff.

An ology might not a make you a scientist, but a BSc in gerontology will guarantee that you’re an expert in your field. This can only encourage a realignment of professional attitudes towards older people.

● Barchester is the first private care provider to give all of its nurses free access to online learning units via the Nursing Times Group Access

If you are interested in finding out about career opportunities at Barchester please call Marianne or Amy on 01608 645831 or visit

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